Last summer, when the U.S. Information Agency was pressing Congress and the General Services Administration to find it a new national headquarters, it argued that having its 1,631 employes spread through four downtown buildings made them hard to keep track of.

That certainly seems to have been true.

The same week that Congress approved the lease and it was signed by a commercial developer, the USIA confessed that it had undercounted its workforce by 273.

"When we submitted our original forms to you in June, we failed to include extra employes, people on loan from other agencies and interns," said John D. Scott, acting chief of administrative services for the USIA in a Sept. 22 letter to GSA.

So, instead of moving 1,631 people from four locations into their new headquarters at 400 C St. SW, GSA would have to move 1,904. That miscount, and pressure on GSA regional officials to squeeze federal workers into 135 square feet per person whenever possible, has left the government short of space.

"It's the library that may have to go," said William Jenkins, director of real estate for GSA in the Washington region.

Jerome Werbel, USIA's deputy assistant director for management, admitted that the agency erred by improperly counting its employes. "We forgot to include people who were on detail to us from other agencies, like the State Department, and people who are on task forces who have come back temporarily from overseas and interns," he said.

To solve the crunch, GSA tried going to Donohoe Construction Co., which owns the building, and asking to use ground-floor space reserved for small retail establishments. Donohoe said it wanted $29.35 per square foot, significantly more than the $16.07 per square foot GSA was renting office space in the rest of the building.

When GSA's commissioner of public buildings, Richard O. Haase, learned of the negotiations, he rejected the deal.

Haase said his realty specialists were ordered Monday to ask Donohoe to accept the $16.07 rate for the ground-floor space "in the public interest."

"They know they're going to have a lot of problems with a federal and commercial tenant, and it would be better for all parties to give us the space at the lower rate," Haase said. But Donohoe apparently wants to hold the line at $29.

"Under those circumstances," Haase said, "We're putting part of the USIA across the street."

That "part" is the library, though USIA's Werbel complained that it "would not be advantageous for the programs we operate to do that because the library is an integral part of the agency."

He said he would rather move other USIA employes to the Voice of America building and leave the library in the 400 C Street building.

"I don't want you think we're like a kid in a candy store, if I can't pick out that certain chocolate, I'll cry," Werbel said. "We can compromise."